Review: Fireworks, ‘freaks’ and Fiona highlight ‘Shrek: The Musical’

L-R: Andre Jordan (Donkey), Steve Judkins (Shrek) and Whitney Winfield (Princess Fiona) on stage in Tuacahn's production of "Shrek: The Musical," Ivins, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Tuacahn Amphitheater, St. George News

REVIEW — Tuacahn Amphitheater’s 2017 musical season is underway, and right out of the gate, the outdoor amphitheater is going green with its whimsical and hopeful production of “Shrek: The Musical.”

Steve Judkins (Shrek) on stage in Tuacahn’s production of “Shrek: The Musical,” Ivins, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Tuacahn Amphitheater, St. George News

The musical stage version of this unconventional fairy tale is based on the 2001 DreamWorks Animation film “Shrek” and the 1990 William Steig book of the same name, which follows an ogre and a talking donkey as they journey to rescue Princess Fiona from a dragon-guarded tower.

The story begins when Shrek’s swamp is overrun by a host of fairy tale characters who have been cast out of their homes in Duloc by the spiteful Lord Farquaad, who despises anything less than what he deems perfect.

The wildly popular film won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and spawned a slew of sequels in addition to the Broadway musical.

The original film was released before I became a parent, and for reasons unknown I was never able to successfully introduce it into my children’s repertoire of favorite films. For my part, I always enjoyed the film’s odd look at the world of fairy tales, but for the life of me I cannot figure out why anyone felt the need to stage it as a musical.

But since they did, and it is showing at Tuacahn, I made my way to the amphitheater to see what it was all about.

As a brief aside here: Tuacahn’s amphitheater is outside, and even though the show started at 8:45 p.m., it was hot – 101 degrees at start time. Guests should plan for heat by wearing cool comfortable clothing, bringing a mister or cool cloth to wear around their neck and drink plenty of water. These are basic tips to help enjoy the show as well as to stay safe in the desert heat.

Whitney Winfield (Princess Fiona) on stage in Tuacahn’s production of “Shrek: The Musical,” Ivins, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Tuacahn Amphitheater, St. George News

“Shrek: The Musical” shares many similarities with its movie predecessor – basic plot line and some dialogue to name a couple – but in the stage version we also get to learn more about the back story of the characters.

How exactly did Shrek end up in a swamp all alone? And how many days was Princess Fiona locked in that tower? Those questions and more are addressed throughout the production.

The most glaring difference from film to stage is the addition of original songs, and while some felt a little forced in order to move the plot along, most of them were quite delightful. A few of my favorite numbers included “I Know It’s Today,” “I Think I Got You Beat” and “Freak Flag,” one of the most joyful numbers of the entire production. More on that later.

Tuacahn is well known for its extravagant productions, and “Shrek: The Musical” is no different. The special effects and props – including fireworks, live animals and an incredible water projection system a la Disney’s California Adventure park “World of Color” display – are definitive highlights of the production. Nobody does Broadway-style theater that is quite as magnificent and creative as Tuacahn.

“Shrek: The Musical” is essentially a story about trying to fit in. Set in the world of fairy tale creatures and storybook endings, Shrek sets off with a host of misfit characters on quests of sorts to fit into their worlds, only to discover it is their differences that make them beautiful.

L-R: Andre Jordan (Donkey) and Steve Judkins (Shrek) on stage in Tuacahn’s production of “Shrek: The Musical,” Ivins, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Tuacahn Amphitheater, St. George News

When the ousted group of fairy tale “freaks” finally accept who they are, they break into the wondeful “Freak Flag.” The message of the song, coupled with the vibrant energy of the ensemble cast and their colorful costumes, had me positively beaming.

“Shrek: The Muscial” showcases an incredibly talented cast, from the ensemble all the way to the leads. A few of my favorites include Jeffery Scott Stevens (Lord Farquaad), Brian Nelson (Pinocchio) and Jennifer Leigh Warren, who voices the dragon.

The production is led by a stellar threesome: Steve Judkins (Shrek), Andre Jordan (Donkey) and Whitney Winfield (Princess Fiona). The trio of thespians are gifted singers and move the story along with real energy. Watch for Jordan as he ingeniously captures the liveliness of Donkey, voiced in the films by Eddie Murphy, and creates a character that is easy to love. Donkey was my 8-year-old’s favorite character.

The lead characters shared a strong chemistry on stage, whether it was the uncommon friendship between an ogre and a talking donkey or the budding romance between Shrek and his princess.

That being said, the production truly belongs to Winfield and her portrayal of Princess Fiona. Much like the overarching theme of the show, Winfield gave Fiona a personality on stage that transcended the stereotypical ideal of a princess. She was at once charming and crude, hilarious and mesmerizing. And boy can she sing.

“Shrek: The Musical” is comedic, crude at times and possibly superfluous, but it is also whimsical, full of hope and a fabulously entertaining production.

Event details

  • What: Tuacahn’s production of “Shrek: The Musical.”
  • When: Now through Oct. 20, days and times vary, see website for showtimes.
  • Where: Tuacahn Amphitheater, 1100 Tuacahn Drive, Ivins.
  • Cost: $29-$89.
  • Purchase tickets: Online | Telephone: 800-746-9882 or 435-652-3300 | At the box office, 1100 Tuacahn Drive, Ivins.

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Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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